Zadar is the city in Croatia that I’ve been to the most times. When I was a child, we’d come here every summer to visit our relatives and we always had a blast, whether it was playing at the beach or eating ice cream cones in the old town. Of course, I’ve been there as an adult as well to visit family and now I like it even more than I used to. Zadar is larger than popular Dubrovnik and has a wonderful city center made up of the Old Town, as it is in many Croatian cities. Zadar is located north from Split, around a two hour drive on the freeway, and is over 3,000 years old. Pretty impressive, right? The city boasts with architecture from Roman times, such as the Roman Forum and Iaderae monuments from the Middle Ages, countless churches and monasteries etc. If you don’t know which Croatian city to visit this summer, I’ve created a short, yet extensive guide to Zadar.
Me in Zadar, enjoying the sunset a couple of years ago.
The most popular way of living in Croatia is renting apartments or rooms from locals. Check out booking.com or hotels.com (adlink) to find some pretty nice places. Staying this way is quite cheap and you can stay in the neighborhoods where the locals live, getting to know the Croatian way of live. However, there are also many nice hotels – Falkensteiner has some really nice hotels in Zadar, including the Adriana Hotel by Borik located just by the beach and a 20 minute walk to the city centre, while the Iadera hotel and spa is located a bit outside of the city but has a real luxury feeling to it (full disclosure, one of my family members works there but I haven’t been paid to write this 😉 ). If you’re a backpacker and just want some place cheap and nice, there are plenty of hostels as well – again check Booking and Hotels.
Enjoy sunny days…
One of the most popular beaches in Zadar is Borik, it’s quite large and there’s something for everyone here. The adventurous types can rent a scooter and the kids can play by the children’s area. The beach is mostly pebbles, as in most of Croatia. Another popular beach is Kolovare, frequented by both locals and tourists, and the recipient of the international Blue Flag award – a symbol for clean water and quality. If you have a car, you can drive 12 km north of Zadar to Petrcane, a very popular beach in a small fishing village. This beach has markets, restaurant and everything else you could possibly need. Close by is also the popular beach in Nin, where you can smother yourself in the famous medicinal mud, which is said to treat everything from rheumatic diseases to skin diseases (although I’d recommend it just for the fun of it – your skin becomes really soft!).
Here’s Jacob, covered in the medicinal mud of Nin. You apply it straight from the ground, wear it for half an hour and wash it off in the sea.
The sunset in Zadar – isn’t it one of the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen?
You can’t write a guide to Zadar without mentioning The Greeting to the sun and the Sea Organ, which is also the best location to watch the famous Zadar sunset. The Greeting to the sun is a unique light installation which uses sunlight to create amazing light shows in the evening. The Sea Organ is just as unique and plays soft and relaxing music with the help of the waves coming in from the ocean. Sit here with your loved ones and enjoy the sunset, the music, and the light show. You’ll find several national parks which can easily be reached by bus or car, Plitvice Lakes is a 2 hour drive away but you can also visit the picturesque waterfalls of Krka near Sibenik or visit the Paklenica canyons, both just a 50 minute ride away. If you have access to a boat, I highly recommend sailing out to the Kornati archipelago. The water is crystal clear and bright blue and the lack of tourists makes it the perfect place to really get away from the everyday vacation life.
Don’t miss: The Full Moon Night, usually in August, when the city turns the lights off down the main street Riva and the locals make traditional dishes you can taste.
Old Roman forum ruins
The Greeting to the sun
Go river rafting in the Zrmanja river, located one hour away by car or bus. You can go rafting April-October. If you visit during the summer months, the water levels are usually lower and calmer while a spring or autumn visit will give you more of an adrenaline rush. There are a few different river rafting centres, check out Raftrek, HuckFinn, and Riva Rafting Centar. I did river rafting while in Montenegro/Bosnia last year and it was such a wonderful experience, so I really recommend this if you want to see the best of Croatian nature.
The main street in the old town, Riva, has many good shops whether you’re looking for fashion or locally produced souvenirs. If it’s raining out while you’re visiting Zadar, you can indulge in an afternoon of shopping at the Supernova shopping center, which has an abundance of international and local stores for men, women and children alike.
You can’t miss St Donatus Chruch if you’re shopping in Zadar.
There are many great restaurants in the Old town and there’s really something for everyone. But my favorite restaurant is located outside of theold city and is called Mamma Mia. They make the best lasagna you will ever taste (whether you choose the vegetarian or the meat version). The staff is friendly and food is amazing! Other places worth mentioning are Restaurant Bruschetta and Pasta & Svasta. If you’re vegan, the restaurant Art of Raw serves vegan raw food daily during high season (closed if the weather’s bad) in the lovely The Garden, which has an amazing view of Zadar.
Get your party on at…
Zadar is not just for families. If you want to sip cocktails or party all night long, Zadar’s the city for you as well. The Garden Lounge that I mentioned above has such wonderful scenery and atmosphere, and so has Lounge & Bar Ledana, so it’s a must to grab a drink here. Otherwise there’s Maraschino – café by day, night club by night, or Yachting Bar close to the Borik beach. Also, be sure to check out Podroom which is open during weekends and is the place to party all night long
The sun is setting behind the mountains…
I hope you enjoyed my guide to Zadar, whether you’ve visited it before or not. It’s truly a lovely and underestimated city – and cheaper than both Dubrovnik and Split.